Holding Bush Accountable | The Nation


Holding Bush Accountable

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Elizabeth Holtzman
Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman is co-author of Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney...

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Neither Congress nor the courts have taken the exam­ple to heart and stood firmly against presidential crimes or serious misconduct.

Bush lied. People died. Will anyone be prosecuted?

The Iraq War, the torture and mistreatment of detainees, and the wiretapping and US Attorney scandals of the Bush administration merit new and full investigations that could be carried out singly or together and could be conducted by Congress or an outside commission.

The Iraq War has been a tragic mistake for America. More than 4,000 Americans have been killed, more than 30,000 wounded and the financial cost is expected to exceed $1 trillion. The cost to Iraqis in lives and destruction is much greater. This war was not just unnecessary; it was based on false claims. We were told we were justified in striking at Iraq because it posed the threat of weapons of mass destruction and because Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Al Qaeda, which attacked us on 9/11. Those statements, as we now know, were blatantly untrue.

Despite several Congressional investigations, we never learned whether President Bush knew that the justifications for the war were untrue and whether he deliberately lied to drive the country into the war.

There are many indications that he did know. The Downing Street memo officially recorded a briefing given to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in July 2002 by his top intelligence official, who had just returned from meetings in Washington, eight months before the war began. According to the memo, Blair was told that the United States had already decided to remove Saddam and that the intelligence was going to be "fixed" around the policy. At the first National Security Council meeting in 2001, two years before the United States went to war, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was astonished to find that the decision to invade Iraq had already been made--the question, he said, was not whether but when. Finally, the Senate Intelligence Committee not long ago found that most of the claims made for the need to go to war were not borne out by information in the possession of US intelligence agencies.

A 9/11 kind of commission or committees of Congress must commence an investigation to get at the truth of the presidential deceptions related to the war. Whether President Bush knowingly deceived us needs to be fully explored and exposed; if he did, he will at the very least have to carry that burden of disgrace permanently. Precisely because other presidents lied about warmaking--think of Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and Richard Nixon and the secret bombing of Cambodia--we know that future presidents will be tempted to do the same. Investigating and exposing the role of President Bush and his team in the deceptions causing the Iraq War may discourage future presidents from taking the same path.

Similarly, investigations need to be conducted into the torture and mistreatment of detainees held by the US government. The numerous investigations ordered by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the wake of the Abu Ghraib disclosures obfuscated the question of responsibility at the highest level. They conveniently did not probe the role of the president; vice president; Justice Department officials, including the attorney general; or other cabinet secretaries. They also did not look at the actions of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The mistreatment was recently confirmed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which in a bipartisan report found that it was initially traceable to President Bush's removal of Geneva Convention protections from members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and was a direct result of actions taken by Rumsfeld.

Full inquiries into responsibility for torture and mistreatment, however, need to be undertaken by a commission outside Congress, since some members of the House and Senate appear to have been apprised by the administration of the torture while it was going on and may have approved it. Members of Congress might be reluctant to sit in judgment of their colleagues, and in any case there would be a serious problem of appearances if they did.

Detainee mistreatment and torture have inflamed anti-American sentiment throughout the world, creating added risks to our soldiers and to Americans everywhere. Indeed, Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo have become rallying cries and recruitment tools for Al Qaeda. Revealing and documenting the whole story of detainee mistreatment, including the role of the CIA and the president and vice president, would go a long way toward changing public opinion about America at home and abroad.

The Bush administration's wiretapping program must also be reviewed. Although Congress has watered down the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), it is important to understand the nature and scope of the intrusions into Americans' privacy under the program. As much information as possible, limited only by what is absolutely essential to protect national security, must be made public. For example, we do not yet know whether journalists, lawyers, political opponents and the like were subjected to wiretaps or other intrusions.

Investigations also need to be conducted into the president's role in the US Attorney scandal and the role of his aides Karl Rove and Harriet Miers and his Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. It appears that certain US Attorneys were removed from office solely because they failed to bring baseless prosecutions against Democrats in the 2006 election year, and that other US Attorneys were appointed to bring baseless prosecutions. The misuse of our criminal justice system for electoral ends is a grave abuse of power, and the facts behind the scandal must be uncovered.

In connection with the conviction of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for obstruction of justice, the administration classified the notes from the FBI's interview of Vice President Cheney. Those notes need to be declassified so the country can better understand the role he and the president played in the effort to "out" a clandestine CIA employee in retaliation for her husband's public claims that President Bush was taking the country to war under false pretexts. The FBI's notes of the president's interview should be made public as well.

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